Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An 'off' week

Once the games started, no one cared that I arrived only 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the tournament.
We did manage to start within 5 minutes of the 9:30 start.

  The week after I run a youth tournament is normally a time for me to take a break from chess and last week’s break couldn’t have come at a better time. I had pretty much gone through the motions for last month’s tournament and everything was in place or so I thought. I left at 8:00 expecting to arrive at 9:00 but got held up by 15 minutes when the main east to west road in Marshalltown was closed for construction except for 2 points and I had to go all the way across town to just to get on the road to Des Moines. Normally this would have been no problem except that I forgot that I was supposed to be at the tournament at 8:30 for the 9:30 start! I arrived at 9:15 and there were parents and kids already waiting for the tournament to start and a couple of the kids had already left (Luckily, they came back).

  The morning tournament went very smoothly after my initial lateness and it seems as if most of the players and parents had a good time. There was a family of 4 that came all the way from Iowa City to play (a father and 3 kids). 2 of the kids weren’t very highly rated and they only got one tie game between them in the morning. When everyone had left for the lunch break, I realized I only had one player in the afternoon unrated section. He happened to have won the morning unrated tournament so I arranged with his parents to get him a 3 month membership so he could play in the rated section. Then another unrated player showed up and since now I still had no unrated players, I got him a 3 month membership also. Everyone was ready to sit down and play when the father from Iowa City (who had just returned from lunch) asked me if I could move his 2 lower rated kids to the unrated section! I didn’t bother explaining that I’d just bought the 2 unrated players temporary memberships; I just said that I had no unrated players. The father was a good sport about it and everyone played their first game but got to thinking that with 14 players, I could move the lowest rated 4 players into their own section. So after the first game, I took the two lower rated kids from Iowa City, Dalton (the beginner) from my chess club, and one of the unrated players I’d gotten a membership for and had my first ever rated ‘unrated’ section! I might have avoided a lot of confusion if I had thought over the father’s request instead of following Nancy Reagan’s advice of ‘Just Saying No (sic)’.

  It was a messy tournament day that ended well enough, but all the same I was happy to have it done with so I could forget about the day I showed up late to my own tournament! I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and on Monday I had my first lesson with my new chess student, Alex. I’ve never given private lessons before, but Alex’s mom is my chess camp nurse and since he has another commitment that will prevent him from attending the camp, the lessons are my way of paying his mom for helping out with the camp. We met at Big City Burgers, a restaurant in the Capital Square building 2 blocks from my workplace. My thinking was that I would order a $3.75 turkey burger and eat it during the lesson. The lessons are not only going to be good for Alex (hopefully), they will also help me since the material for the lessons are the positions I’m preparing for the chess camp. I met Alex and his dad at noon as scheduled, we sat down at one of the tables that were set up in the lobby of the office building, I set up a puzzle position for Alex to work on, and went to order my turkey burger but there was such a long line I decided to order my burger later and went back to the lesson. At 12:30, I went back to order my turkey burger and after 3 minutes of waiting behind the only person in line to decide whether or not he wanted sprouts on his burger and asking if there were any wheatgrass sprouts and trying to find out if the onion rings were made with organically grown onions, I gave up on my turkey burger for this day and went back to the lesson. I’ve eaten at Big City Burgers often enough to have known how busy they were at lunch time and the reason I went without lunch was not the sprout person in front of me, rather my not calling in an order ahead of time.

  The lesson finished well enough and I muddled through until Thursday when I got to go to the Marshalltown Chess Club like I do at least 50 Thursdays a year. For the second week in a row, we didn’t have any out of town players so I skipped the tournament since we were all playing amongst ourselves, but as we went to the last half hour of club the younger kids started getting restless and bored. I thought it was because it was summer, but then 2 of the kids told me they were looking forward to the tournament and were disappointed we didn’t have it. I hadn’t skipped a tournament in a few months and was totally oblivious to the new reality that the younger players want to have the tournament whether there are out of town players or not. Lesson learned and from now on I’ll be having a tournament every week.

  I had a relaxing non-chess weekend and resolved to pay more attention to small details like remembering what time I have to be at my tournament, having a tournament every Thursday, and ordering my lunch on lesson day ahead of time. I went to work on Monday and made sure to order my turkey burger online. I got to Big City Burgers a few minutes before the lesson, and went right to the register to pick up my burger. The only group in front of me included a lady who needed to know how many calories was in the pita bread they used for the wrap so she could decide on getting a wrap or having her sandwich loose in a container. It was hot and after 3 minutes of the great pita wrap debate I was getting hotter but finally they decided to get the wrap and at long last it was my turn to pick up my turkey burger. I handed in my on-line order receipt to the cashier and she looked at me and said:
Oh! You could have just gone in the on-line order line'.

Given a choice of 2 lines, I went in the wrong one! To quote the prophet Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon!". Serves me right for trying to be just like 'Everyone else'. On the other hand, I did manage to snap this picture of John Kerry. When I asked him if he was indeed John Kerry, he told me he only gets recognized in Iowa every 4 years or so...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Movie Review - Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter

  When I was a youngster, the only vampire around was Dracula. Dracula could be anything from an indestructible demon that killed people to drink their blood and then turned into a bat to fly away to a complete buffoon who could be outwitted by Abbot and Costello. There was a show called Dark Shadows that was on TV after school for a year or two that featured Barnabas Collins as a vampire. Somewhere between then and now, not only have vampires gotten cool, they’ve become heartthrobs thanks to something called the Twilight series. I’ve never seen any of the movies or read any of the books but these vampires are young, handsome, and on the covers of the magazines that are designed to be sold to teenage girls. There are also plenty of TV shows featuring vampires like the ‘Vampire Diaries’ and ‘True Blood’.

  I’m not a big vampire fan, but the TV commercials showing Abe Lincoln lopping vampires in half with a big axe looked pretty cool so Kathy, Matt, and I went to see ‘Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter’ on Friday night. The movie was taken from a book (which I hadn’t read), but this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen Lincoln in a surreal environment. In the original Star Trek TV show, Lincoln is transported to the Enterprise to join forces with Kirk, Spock and Surak (a legendary Vulcan) to battle Genghis Khan and other intergalactic bad guys for the amusement of the an all-powerful alien being that wants to understand about good and evil. Lincoln didn’t make it to the end of that episode alive it’s a big step up from battling vampires to Kahless the Klingon and Yarnek of Excalbia.

  The movie tells the life of Abe Lincoln as a tortured soul not unlike the Batman. As a child, he sees his mother attacked and devotes his early life to gaining vengeance on his mother’s killer. When he finally confronts and shoots his mother’s killer, he finds to his shock that he is face to face with a vampire. Lincoln is saved by a vampire hunter named Henry Sturges, who trains Lincoln physically and mentally to be a vampire hunter and even equips him with a silver tipped axe.

  The rest of the movie follows like an autobiography of Lincoln’s life, except that everything he does is motivated by his quest to kill vampires. He starts out by hunting down a select few vampires chosen by his mentor, but then puts down his axe and enters politics when he discovers that the slave trade in the Confederate States is run by the vampires in order to keep them supplied with a steady supply of blood. This turns out to be the ‘real’ reason behind the Civil War. The vampires strike back by killing Lincoln’s son and even go to war for the Confederacy at the battle of Gettysburg. The movie culminates with Lincoln taking his silver axe out of mothballs, devising a plan to supply the Union troops with silver weapons to defeat the vampires at Gettysburg, the head vampire (Adam)’s couterplan to sabotage the supply and an epic battle between the two aboard a runaway train hurtling across a massive bridge that has been set on fire by the vampires.

  The movie is very believable (as long as you can accept the whole vampire thing). Benjamin Walker was a great Abraham Lincoln. He reminded me a lot of Liam Neeson and looked fit enough to be able to go a few rounds with some vampires and seemed at least a foot taller than everyone else in the movie. He gave the character the right mix of being clumsy in social settings and a leader in crisis situations. The signature fight scene on the train was very well done, even though the battle scenes tended to get a bit gory with countless vampire heads being chopped off. One thing I especially liked about the movie was the lack of profanity. I’m sure it took a lot of restraint on the part of the director to not have Abe Lincoln drop the f-word every so often. All in all, it was an entertaining movie if you can deal with all the gore.

  One thing I noticed was that all the vampires were white. Since the vampires were feasting on the slaves’ blood and you get to be a vampire by being bitten by one, I would have thought that there would be at least a few African-American vampires, possibly even fighting on the union side. I wonder if there will be any public outcry to include some diversity amongst vampires for the sequel just like Star Trek : Voyager debuted a non-white Vulcan and Billy Dee Williams became the first non-white biped humanoid of color in the Star Wars series after protests.

  This is the first movie I can remember that has used the idea of the President as ‘action hero’. Harrison Ford in ‘Air Force One’ was sort of an action hero when he saved his plane and crew from terrorists, but he was more of a normal man in an abnormal situation, not a vampire hunter trained to fight in pitch dark and wield a combination axe/single load shotgun in ninja style like Lincoln and the President in ‘Independence Day’ just happened to be a fighter pilot, but otherwise had no paranormal abilities. Now that this barrier has been broken, I’m wondering who will be the next action hero President. I’m sure that some sort of story could be crafted about Ronald Reagan (the original Hollywood president), gaining super strength or some other power in a freak accident, breaking into the Iranian embassy before the 1980 election and freeing the hostages, but allowing the Ayatollah to keep them until after the election so he could win and become president. Since Batman will be battling a super-villain called Bain in the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ next month and the republican nominee Mitt Romney is coming under criticism for working for a company called Bain, maybe a Democratic PAC can create a production of ‘Barack Obama : Corporate Raider Hunter’ coming soon to a theatre near you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Champions Past, Present, and Future

  I recently read the book ‘My Story’ by golfer Jack Nicklaus, which I got at the Salvation Army thrift store in Marshalltown for 50 cents. I’m not much of a golf fan and have only played a handful of times, but I’ve always enjoyed watching the major championships when they’re on TV and remember seeing Nicklaus compete for them. Nicklaus’s career spanned the era where golfers routinely sold percentages of their potential future earnings to sponsors to the era where a top golfer’s expenses would be paid by equipment companies for the privilege of having their equipment and clothes seen as being used by the golfers on TV.

  Nicklaus is the current record holder with 18 major golf championships, and this 1997 book is a straightforward chronicle of his life with a chapter devoted to his each championship. I always marveled at how top chess players could instantly remember games and positions from years ago and it is equally amazing to me how Nicklaus can recall so much detail from tournaments that happened 20 to 35 years prior. He may have been aided somewhat by a peek at the videotape, but he routinely goes into his entire thinking process for many of his shots including the wind, location of the pin, type of grass that was on the green, how he played similar shots years before, and the weather. While his innate talent (Ohio Junior Champion at 12) for golf and a decidedly upper middle class upbringing (a father who owned a string of pharmacies) certainly aided in his success, his dedication and hard work is what made him an all-time great.

  Nicklaus is proud of his majors record and justifiably so. I remember seeing him being interviewed saying he could claim 20 majors by including his 2 US Amateur championships (The US Amateur was considered a major championship until the 1940’s when professional golf was still frowned upon) to give him a total of 20, but that kind of talk stopped during Tiger Woods ascension as a threat to his record, possibly since Woods won 3 US Amateur championships.

  I’ve always been fascinated by the pursuit of records. Every year I check the NBA standings to see when every team gets their 11th loss to ensure the 1996 Chicago Bulls record of 72-10 stands for another year and I‘ve also enjoyed the struggles of bad basketball teams to get their 10th win and get away from the Philadelphia 76ers 1972 mark of 9-73, which has been lowered further by the Charlotte Hornets mark of 7-59 in this year’s strike shortened season. The pursuit of baseball records used to be a pastime of mine and I always had young players on my radar to see if they would get 3000 hits, 500 home runs, or 300 wins. In the 1980’s, the Mets came up with 2 great talents, pitcher Dwight Gooden and outfielder Darryl Strawberry. At the end of the 1990 season Gooden had 119 at age 25 and Strawberry had 252 home runs at the age of 28. I was look forward to seeing their assault on the record books, but cocaine and injuries took their toll on the two young stars. Strawberry hit only 83 more home runs and Gooden managed 75 more wins in careers that were over by 2000. Since then, steroid cheaters like Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez have taken away much of the enjoyment I used to get from baseball records and I don’t pay much attention to them anymore.

  When Tiger Woods came on the scene, all the pundits predicted greatness but no one guaranteed he would break Nicklaus’ major championship record. When he racked up 8 majors by the age of 26 (many with record scores and margins of victories) to get 4 years ahead of Nicklaus’ pace, the question changed from if he would break the record to when he would and by how much. Woods then went into an almost 3 year slump, but won 2 majors in 2005 and 2006 and 1 each in 2007 and 2008 to get to 14 majors at the age of 32. Nicklaus had 9 majors at the age of 32 and won his 14th major at the age of 35. Woods hasn’t won a major championship since his 2008 US Open victory, after which he had knee surgery for the second time that year. Since then he had to take time off the tour in 2009 when his marital infidelities led to the highly publicized breakup of his marriage and the question of whether he would break Nicklaus’ major record has turned from a when to a very large if.

  When Woods won his first tournament since 2009 2 weeks before the Masters (the first of the 2012 majors), there were high hopes for Woods to win his 15th major, but he was never a factor and finished in 40th place. Then 2 weeks before this past weekend’s US Open (the second major), Woods won his second tournament of the year and was installed by the US Open favorite by the odds makers based on the amount of bets placed on him. After the first 2 rounds, the odd makers were looking like prophets when Woods was tied for the lead, but Woods played himself out contention over the last 2 rounds and finished in 21st place.

  Despite not having won one of the last 16 majors, I still think Woods will find a way to breaking Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. At 36, Woods is still 2 years younger than Nicklaus was when he won his 15th major, he has seemingly put his personal problems behind him, and is in the best health he has been in since his 2008 surgeries. Despite the media’s longing to crown the current generations of young golfer (Ricky Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, etc…) as the new ‘Tiger Woods’, the fact that there has 9 straight first time major winners is evidence that there is no dominant golfer ready to take over from Woods at the present time. I’m not saying that Woods will ever break course or margin of victory records again, but I believe he will be able to be just a little bit better than the rest of the world’s golfers for 5 more major weekends.

  Speaking of champions, with the Miami Heat’s win last night in game 4 of the NBA finals to take a 3-1 series lead, it appears my prediction in February that the Heat looked like world championship material was on the money. Unlike last year’s relatively easy path to the Finals, the Heat have been thoroughly tested in this year’s playoff run, being behind 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers and 3-2 to the Celtics, but managed to battle back for gritty road wins to take both of the series. The difference I see in this year’s team is that when their back has been to the wall, their best player LeBron James has stopped settling for outside jump shots and has driven to the basket in order to draw fouls and get chances for free points even when he doesn’t make the basket (last night’s 3-point game winner notwithstanding). In the 2011 playoffs, James took 156 foul shots in 21 games and this year he has 225 attempts in 22 games. By comparison, superstar teammate Dwayne Wade has 157 foul shots this year compared to 179 last year. This willingness to take a beating in order to get to the foul line is something Michael Jordan routinely did when points were hard to come by and a habit Kobe Bryant acquired in leading the Lakers to their latest run of 3 straight final appearances. It looks to me that James has also figured out that this is a habit of champions and I expect the Heat to finish the series tomorrow.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A special relationship

  Every weeknight, Kathy and I take Daisy and Baxter for a walk 3 blocks towards downtown and then we head north. One our way back, we pass an empty building right across the street from the Salvation Army building that used to house a local internet provider. The last couple of months there was a sign saying the area was planning on being rezoned with a number to call for questions.

  I had heard that a microbrewery wanted to open there I didn’t think too much about it. I thought that a brewery would just make beer and bring it to the bars where it would be consumed. This week I saw in the local paper that the rezoning had been approved and a microbrewery was going to be put in this building. I noticed in the article that the Salvation Army opposed the rezoning because the microbrewery would be selling beer to consumed on the premises and there was a prohibition on selling alcohol 300 feet from a church. As part of the rezoning, the prohibition was lifted and the project will be going forward.

  One of the big objections that the Salvation Army had to an establishment selling alcohol across the street from their building was that the Salvation Army hosts alcoholic and narcotics anonymous meetings and looking right at a bar after leaving the meeting was going to be a serious temptation to the people attending these meetings. And after reading some of the articles in the paper that I missed, this new business certainly seems more like a bar than a brewery. In an April newspaper article, the owner, Roger Brown said he was looking for a building “suitable for a small business that offers beer aficionados a place to sample different types of home-brewed beers.” Only time will tell if Brown will categorize Budweiser and Miller as ‘home-brewed beer’ or start staying open at night instead of his planned daytime schedule if business gets slow.

  There is a grocery store down the block form the Salvation Army building that sells beer and a full-fledged liquor store a block away from the proposed microbrewery so there are already plenty of nearby options for the AA and NA participants to hop off the wagon if they choose to. But to have a bar directly across from the Salvation Army parking lot seems a little much. And it’s not just the AA and NA crowd that will be so close to a bar. The Boy Scouts meet weekly at the building as well as the Head Start program and during the flu epidemic 2 years ago, hundreds of people come to the building to get the only free flu shots offered in Marshalltown. Just a few years ago, the Marshalltown Business Community was helping raise money for the Salvation Army to get matching funds for a huge addition for the building, but I suppose when there is a little tax money or prestige in luring a startup microbrewery to be had, anything goes.

A sampling of the alcohol opportunities within 3 blocks of the Salvation Army Building in Marshalltown:
Left : The Depot Liquor Store
Center : The Corner Tap bar, where the patrons gather outside to carpet the ground with cigarette butts
Right : The Center Street Station, where drinking is 'What We Do'!

  To be fair to the city council, the Central Business District was the only area in town that had the 300 foot limit in effect before it was repealed but the head of the Marshall Economic Development Impact Committee (MEDIC) Tom Deimerly was in full defense mode of the bar being so close to the Salvation Army building, noting that while the 300 foot restriction prevented alcohol from being sold near a church or school, there was nothing to prevent a church or school from opening within 300 feet of a business that sells alcohol. I don’t know what Deimerly’s stand on the separation of church and state is, but I know he is firmly against the separation of schools, churches, and alcohol. He may have a point. The grammar school I went to in Hillside, New Jersey was within 500 feet from the College Inn Bar & Grill. If it was any farther away many of my teachers like Mrs. Vernon and Mr. Guardino wouldn’t have been able to stagger back to sleep through the afternoon classes and countless lives were saved because they didn’t have to drive back from their liquid lunch. There is no word if Deimerly will be changing the I in MEDIC to stand for IMBECILE.

  This is only the latest chapter in Marshalltown and Iowa’s love affair with beer. The annual bike ride through Iowa, RAGBRAI is scheduled to stop in Marshalltown on July 25th and not only will the courthouse square be converted into a beer, ahem…beverage garden for the stopover, Marshalltown’s logo (complete with T-shirts) for the stopover is a Red Solo Cup inside a bicycle tire based on the drinking song by country star Toby Keith complete with the official slogan ‘Proceed to Party’. I’m sure the organizers aren’t promoting overuse of alcohol by the visiting bicyclists and when they talk about partying they’re planning some really mean games of ‘Twister’.

  In other Alcohol in Iowa news, the University of Iowa has inked a 4 year deal with Anhueser-Busch to allow the beer company to use the school’s Hawkeye logo on posters, flags, beer cups, and T-shirts. The use of the Tigerhawk logo will have to be accompanied by the phrase ‘Responsibility Matters’, which I assume will be very helpful in curbing the rampant binge drinking by Iowa college students and numerous public intoxication arrests of the Iowa football team. I’m sure when some college student on their 13th beer sees ‘Responsibility Matters’ on the beer can they’ll put their beer down and head to their dorm to study or look for some service opportunities. This is just an extension of an existing contract with the addition of the use of the logo and every other big time school (except for Brigham Young and a few others) have a similar deal in place. Iowa President Sally Mason said all proceeds from the beer deal will fund the university’s alcohol harm reduction plan to reduce binge drinking. I don’t suppose that banning alcohol from the campus ever entered the president’s consideration. Since the university must approve all uses of their logo, I hope they will draw the line at a giant bucket of beer with the logo on the bottom that can only be seen when the bucket’s contents are consumed!

Judging from this early morning picture, my neighbors may be starting their own microbewery!
I don't see any Hawkeye logos -- they must be Cyclone fans!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Best of the ... best?

  I had intended to defend the Broken Pawn’s 2011 Best Chess Blog award from the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) and was waiting for the announcement of the 2012 awards competition but in April I received the decidedly unwelcome news that the Chairman of the Awards (Ramon Hernandez) had resigned his post after 2 years of service. I only talked to Ramon through my participation in last year’s awards, but his work was stellar. He provided clear written instructions for what should be included in an entry submission, acknowledged my entries were received, and provided a transparent overview of the selection process, including a written chairman’s report that listed the results of the votes.

  Ramon wrote a letter to the CJA membership and I inferred from his letter that his resignation was prompted by the insistence by the CJA leadership that he add a Best Book category to the awards or else he would be removed from his post in favor of someone who would add this category. Even though I was on a jury last week I don’t know the principal actors well enough to judge, but I do know that Ramon brought an level of integrity and openness to the awards process that I hadn’t seen in the previous 5 years of following the CJA awards and his will be a hard act to follow.

  I checked the CJA web site twice a week waiting for the new awards announcements but my first glimpse of the 2012 awards came from my Chess Life magazine. The announcement gave a link to check for further details, but when I checked it, I was redirected back to the main CJA page. A week later, the CJA website was updated with the awards announcement from the new committee chairman, Joshua Anderson of Pennsylvania. There wasn’t an address listed where to send the submission on the awards announcement, so I wrote to ask where to send it and received a reply within the hour which I found very encouraging.

The Okoboji Open
My favorite blogging subject!
  There were no submission instructions as there were the past 2 years, so I went by last year’s guidelines and went about picking 3 blog posts to be judged as representative of my blog. My first choice was easy. The Okoboji Open is one of my favorite topics to write about with the drama of a top level tournament, the camaraderie of old friends and the greatest people anyone could ever get to meet. This year’s tournament was no exception and that made ‘A Chess Community’ the first of my three choices.

  My second choice was one of my few posts about the Marshalltown Chess Club, which I’ve been running at the Salvation Army for over 10 years now. Last August, the club received a visit from California’s world class chess traveler Ted Belanoff to play in our Thursday Night Blitz tournament while he was en route to Indiana for the Indianapolis Open. That inspired me to write about some of the many people who have stopped by Marshalltown for a quick hour of chess in a post titled ‘On Any Given Thursday’ and it became the second of my 3 blog submissions. I looked up Ted Belanoff’s playing record since his visit to Marshalltown and he has played in Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, New York, South Dakota, Idaho, Delaware, Arkansas, Nebraska, California, Utah, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, New Hampshire, Oregon, Nevada, Rhode, Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Mexico, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, Hawaii, New Jersey, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana. Ted even returned to Iowa last December to play in Roger Gotschall’s CyChess tournament, which he won to join the list of CyChess winners that include me and my son Matt (the only father and son combination on the list of CyChess winners!).

It was a stellar year of chess blogging for the Broken Pawn! Picking the best blogs from my posts about visitors to Marshalltown for Thursday Night Blitz, editorials on chess nutrition, my youth tournament series (and finding unique prizes), teaching chess at St. Francis, and my chess playing experiences at the Iowa State Fair, Big Money Blitz, and Cychess proved to be a difficult task.

  I had a lot of options for my third and final submission. I thought my post about the Iowa State Fair was well written and had a lot of neat characters. The first round of the CyChess tournament in March when I missed 2 chances at miracle wins due to my opponents time trouble errors got a lot of comments from chess parents and some lower rated chess players telling me how they could relate to my pain, but I didn’t think an ‘agony of defeat’ column was going to leave the judges with a good feeling about my blog. I had 2 youth tournament posts I was especially proud of: ‘Give the Kid a Prize’ in which I my outlined my evolution in thought on tournament prizes from chess buttons to chess medals to Santa trophies and ‘Spread the Word’ where I discuss how a young chess player came to my tournament in a ‘6 degrees of Kevin Bacon’ sort of way. I eventually decided on ‘Spread the Word’ because it has a feel good message that would be helpful for judges to read.

  As long as I was making an entry for the best blog, I decided to submit ‘A Chess Community’ for the Best Feature award even though I have no chance against all the entries the USCF will send for that category and I also decided to submit an entry for the ‘Best Humorous Contribution’ which was ‘Stuffed For Success’; my post on the effects a greasy Italian sandwich had on my chess results.

  I wrote a check for $31 with my submissions and mailed it off to the Awards chairman and also sent an email asking to be informed if there was anything else I needed for my entry. I waited 2 weeks with no response. Last Saturday I saw a post on the CJA website noting the approach of the submission deadline (including the address to send the submissions to) and pointing to the 2010 awards guidelines as a source of general information. I decided to write to the Awards chairman asking if he had gotten my entry. I received a reply within 12 hours saying he had and that this year only one blog post would be reviewed by the judges and which post would I like to have the judges consider?

  I was happy with the quick response and chose ‘A Chess Community’ as my post to be considered. It would have been nice to have known in advance that I only needed to supply one post and it would have been extra nice to have been told that between the time I sent in my entry and when I asked if it had been received. This year’s awards process has been conducted in a confused and haphazard manner so far. I hope it is only growing pains due to a turnover in the awards committee and not a permanent step backwards to the time where I asked the judge for my category what he thought of my entry only to be told he never heard of it. I understand that everyone in the process is a volunteer and being the defending champion may help me repeat in the way that the same baseball players get picked for the Gold Glove awards because of the tendency of the voters to not pay very much attention to a player’s defense and vote for last year’s winner, but all the same this year’s awards experience is making me glad I managed to win the award last year.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jury Duty

  In April, I got a letter telling me I was selected for jury duty for the months of May and June. Just like the last 2 times I got this letter over the 17 years I’ve lived in Iowa, I had to call every Friday to see if my jury pool had to go in to the courthouse the next week. But unlike the last 2 times, this past Friday I was told to call back on Wednesday night because a trial was scheduled for my jury pool on Thursday. When I called, I was told the trial was still on and I needed to go to the courthouse Thursday morning.

  I really didn’t want to miss a day of work (even though I was going to be paid), but if there had to a day to miss work for jury duty, last Thursday would have been my choice. I’d been fighting a cold all week that made the hour drive seem like 2 and 8 hours behind a desk like an eternity and on Thursdays I get to work an hour early so I can get back to Marshalltown for Thursday Night Chess Club. But on this Thursday, even though I woke up at 4:30 like normal to take Daisy and Baxter for their 5 am walk, I was able to hang out in the morning and catch a nap before heading out to the courthouse at 8:15.

  My phone call said I couldn’t bring my cell phone, but it didn’t say anything about other devices so I brought my iPod and pen camera in the hopes of being able to capture some jury duty action for my blog, but when I got to the courthouse elevator there was a huge sign saying NO electronic devices were allowed in the courtroom, so I went back to my car and put away my iPod and pen camera. When I got to the fourth floor courtroom there were 60 people hanging around in the open space between the courtrooms being checked in by the court clerk. There were only 10 or so chairs so almost everyone was standing around until 8:45 when we were brought into a bigger courtroom where all of us could sit down. We waited around until 9 and then were brought into a smaller courtroom which had enough chairs for almost everyone but there were 20 chairs no one was allowed to sit in so many of us had to stand up. Then the judge came in and the court clerk read off 20 names of people who got to sit in the chairs. I was one of the 20 and we were selected to be on the jury for the trial.

  It was explained was that the prosecutor and defense attorney were going to ask us questions and then each would eliminate 4 jurors, leaving a jury of 12 people. I wasn’t that concerned whether I would be eliminated or not, although being selected for the jury gave a bonus of being excused from calling for jury duty for the rest of the 2 month period. The prosecutor got to ask first. He was a young guy who talked about himself for at least 5 minutes and then talked about being a juror for another 5 minutes and then he read a long list of names and asked if we knew any of them. Then he asked if we knew any of each other. Marshalltown isn’t that big so a lot of these people knew each other or went to high school together or worked with one of the other jurors spouses year ago and on and on and on and since I didn’t know anyone of the other jurors I didn’t get to say anything but got to listen to all the trivial ways that some of these people knew each other. Then the prosecutor started talking about the police and asked if any of us ever got traffic tickets. Finally I got to raise my hand. Most of the other jurors said they got tickets but it was OK because they were speeding and they were guilty. Then the prosecutor called on me and I said I get a speeding ticket at least every other year and I never get a ticket for driving crazy; I’m just driving in back of the guy in front of me and in front of the guy in back of me and we all happen to be going too fast so there was never any reason to give me a ticket. The prosecutor then asked if I was upset about it and I said in my best New Jersey voice that ‘Nah. Everybody’s gotta eat.’ That got the courtroom laughing and I figured that I would be excused from the jury any moment. Then the prosecutor asked if we would have problems listing to witnesses with Spanish accents and also asked if any of has had any dealings with Jensen Ford (the only Ford dealer in Marshalltown). That led to another round of people talking about how they got their dent fixed or bought a car there or almost bought a car or was really good friends with someone who worked there and how they could be objective about Jensen Ford in Marshalltown. Then the prosecutor asked if any of us had had our property vandalized. Other people mentioned how their car had been vandalized and I talked about my neighbors driving through my fence or bushes every year or so. The prosecutor asked us how we felt about our vandalism experiences and while everyone else said they just wanted to be reimbursed, I mentioned how I’d like to throw a brick through my neighbor’s window when they break my stuff. I must have sounded like I meant it because only a couple of people laughed this time.

  Then it was time for the defense attorney to ask questions. He was an older guy who introduced himself and said he wasn’t going to ask a lot of questions and then he asked for the lady who was really good friends with someone who worked at Jensen Ford to be excused from the jury and she was. A new juror was selected and the prosecutor talked to her for 5 minutes asking a lot of the same questions and then one of the jurors fainted and we all had to clear out of the courtroom for the EMTS and firefighters. We went back into the open space where there were only 10 chairs and I just sat on the floor reading ‘Chess For Tigers’ by Simon Webb. A little before 11, we were called back in to the courtroom, the fainting juror was replaced and asked 5 minutes of questions by the prosecutor and then the defense attorney said he was done questioning the jury.

  Both the prosecutor and defense attorney then secretly picked 4 jurors each to be excused and the clerk named the 12 jurors that would hear the trial. Much to my surprise, I was not excluded from the jury. The prosecutor and defense gave their opening arguments and we finally got to hear what the case was about. On April 20th, 2011 a Ms. Tovar was in the meat packing plant parking lot before her 6:30 am shift when she heard a scrape sound and saw a Ms. Jones (a small oriental woman) put something in her pocket and walk quickly past her. Tovar then got out of her car and saw her car had a deep scratch on her month old Toyota’s minivan sliding door. Ms. Jones was being charged with 4th degree criminal mischief which is for damage not exceeding $500. It didn’t seem like the kind of case that needed 60 people to take off from work, but there we were.

  After the short opening arguments, Mrs. Tovar took the stand as the prosecution’s first witness. She said that while she didn’t see Ms. Jones scrape the car, she heard a long scraping sound, saw Mrs. Jones put something in her pocket, got out of her car, saw a long deep gray and white scratch on the sliding door behind her, and went to the security office. Then the defense attorney asked her what side of the car the scratch was on, the driver or passenger side. Tovar said the driver side and the defense attorney asked why in a deposition last month she said the scratch was on the passenger side. Tovar said she didn’t understand English that well and misunderstood the question. That made sense to me since the scratched door wasn’t the on the passenger side, but it was a passenger door. Then Tovar was asked why she didn’t confront Jones and Tovar said she couldn’t afford to lose her job.

  The next witness was the service manager from Jensen Ford who had been the service manager for 26 years. He was asked about his estimate and established that it would cost $469 to repair the scratch and all the steps that would have to be done to fix the scratch. The prosecution then entered the estimate into evidence. The defense attorney then asked the service manager to read a date on the top of the estimate and the service manager read the date: March 28th, 2011. Then the service manager was asked what the date meant and he said that would be the date he made the estimate. The prosecutor then had a chance to ask some more questions and he didn’t ask the service manager if the ever entered the wrong date in the computer or if their service department was a bunch of screw-ups. Instead he asked if there was a date on the bottom of the estimate and the service manager said yes: April 25th, 2011.

  Then the arresting police officer was called to the stand. He looked so out of shape that he seemed winded by having to raise his right hand for his oath. He was asked some details about his investigation and he didn’t know the plaintiffs name and didn’t know the dates and said ‘I guess’ about 3 times. He eventually said he charged Jones in June of 2011. Then the defense attorney asked why he waited almost 2 months to charge Jones and the officer said that he was waiting for the estimate from the plaintiff so he would be able to make the proper charge.

  At that point, the prosecution rested and it was the defense attorney’s turn to present his case. But at this point it was 5 minutes till noon and the judge let us break for lunch and told us to be back at 1pm. I was home at 12:05, eating a bowl of soup at 12:10, going on a walk to the Kum & Go with Kathy to get Daisy and Baxter some beef stick treats at 12:20, and back in the juror’s waiting room at 1:00.

  The juror’s room was very nice, with chairs, couches, water, coffee, and a mens and ladies bathroom. We hung out there for a few minutes until we were called back into the courtroom. One of the jurors had parked on the street but had his tire over one of the lines that separate imaginary parking spaces and got a ticket! When we got back, we were told that the defense had rested and wouldn’t be presenting their case and the judge read us 21 pages of jury instructions. Then the prosecutor gave his closing argument. He made some joke about cat-scratch fever and relating it to the scratch on Ms. Tovar’s minivan and told us that we should believe the witness and not the date on the estimate. Then the defense attorney gave his closing argument. He pointed out that the defendant and plaintiff had no proven grudge against each other and that Ms. Tovar didn’t actually see Ms. Jones scratch the van door and that the estimate dated a month before the accident provided enough reasonable doubt to acquit his client.

  We got into the jury room and the guy that got the parking ticket was named the foreman. The first thing we all wanted to see was the date on the estimate. When we saw the date as March 28th, we all talked about whether it could have been a mistake on the part of the service manager. But we all thought the prosecutor should have found a way to show how the date could have been entered in error. Then we started talking about the damage to the car. I volunteered that I had experience keying a car and one of the other jurors also had similar experience. We both agreed that to make a scratch that was described by the plaintiff (we never saw a picture of it) in one continuous scratch would take quite an effort and make a huge screeching noise.

  After only a few minutes deliberation, we decided that because of the date discrepancy on the estimate we had to acquit Ms. Jones. No one could understand what reason she could possibly have had to scratch up someone else’s car, but I could see vandalizing something a co-worker has that you don’t see how they can afford when you can’t. I would have been interested in knowing if Ms. Jones had been in this sort of trouble before and I would have liked to have known what kind of car she had. I mean, there must have been a reason this case went all the way to a trial! Once we all signed the not guilty verdict and gave it to the court clerk, the judge came by a few minutes later, congratulated us on our quickness, and dismissed us. I thought we would have to go back to the courtroom to deliver the verdict, but instead I was home by 2:10, checking on work, walking the dogs, and taking a nap before chess club.

  It was an interesting day in the courtroom, but I was glad to get back to the normalcy of our Thursday night chess club and blitz tournament. After losing 30 rating points to 2012 Iowa Class B champ Joe from Waterloo over 2 weeks, I got to play him in the second round of the tournament. For the first time on over 3 months I didn’t make any silly mistakes and after the normal twists and turns of a 10 minute game we reached the following position:

  I had about a minute left on my clock to 2 and a half for Joe. After trying to provoke a mistake for 10 or 15 moves, I couldn’t find a win and forced a draw with 20 seconds left. My son Matt and Jaleb both thought I lost the game and were surprised that I managed to draw it. I think I must have a win here (with 20 seconds left I have been more likely to hang my queen!), but Joe and Matt both thought it was a draw even with best play. The jury is still out on this case…

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Short Distance Correctly

  “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly
      ~ The Zoo Story by Edward Albee

  One summer I took a public speaking course at the community college. The course was taught by the college acting instructor, Don Julian. I was a business/government /accounting student and as you can imagine, Professor Julian was unlike any other teacher I ever had. He taught public speaking not so much as how to make points or argue your case, but more how to as how to use your voice and the cadence of your words to bring the listeners to your point of view. I took some of the Professor’s acting classes the next year, was in some of the college plays, and spend the next couple of years knocking around some local community theatres and auditioned a couple of times for plays in New York, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. I think I learned that making it big in acting requires a minimum amount of acting ability, but a large determinant for success is simply being in the right place at the right time with the right look. One of my favorite plays was ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ by Tennessee Williams. A friend of mine and I tried out for it in a community theatre. He tried out for the lead role of Stanley Kowalski and I tried out for Mitch (Stanley’s friend and the second banana). Neither of us got the part, although I was asked to play the comic relief part of Stanley’s landlord (Almost all the parts I got were of the comic relief type). One day the guy playing Mitch missed the rehearsal and I got to take his place. It was a lot of fun and afterwards the director told me that she would have liked to put my friend and me in the main male roles, but the female leads she wanted were considerably older than us and she needed older men to play opposite them. Understanding that it’s not always about you is a good lesson for everyone to learn and while I wasn’t that pleased at the time, I’ve been able to put that knowledge to good use when evaluating why things don’t go my way even though I thought I was doing everything right.

Chess and the outdoors. A perfect combination!

  I had my first outdoor tournament of the summer 2 weeks ago and my attendance was decidedly less that I’d hoped for. There were 15 youth players and 6 parents and friends (including me) for a total of 21 players. It wasn’t that much of a drop off from the 32 players I had for a full day indoor tournament in May of 2011, but I was hoping for an increase. After further review, there were a number of factors involved in the turnout. I was invited to 2 graduation parties that weekend so I figured a lot of families would have had similar invitations. And as Jose found out in his Catholic School tournament earlier in the month, May is a big month for first communions. I was also up against Little League, soccer, and a Boy Scout event, so maybe 21 was a great number for this particular day. Another possible cause for the downturn was my decision to not advertise my youth tournaments on the IASCA web site any more, prompted by a scheduling conflict with an IASCA tournament 110 miles away the same day and the resulting torrent of emails. This was a step I should have taken long ago but I was too lazy to make the break. I may lose a player or two, but I’ve had few players come to me from the IASCA web site and I believe that anyone who's meant to come to my tournaments will be led to it regardless of where I advertise.

  The good thing about having 3 round tournaments in the morning and afternoon instead of an all-day 5 round tournament is that I only need 3 or 4 players to have a tournament. In all the sections, it was pretty much all play all and everyone who came to play had a good time, including me. With so few players, I wasn’t busy and was able to play in the parents section (which I swept, thank you very much!), hang out with my friend/poet/chess teacher Dan Troxell from the Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure crowd and give some chess pointers to the young players and their parents. It was refreshing to just have a quiet tournament and relax with a day of chess minus all the busyness of the larger tournaments.

  My acting friend and I used to perform the 2-man Edward Albee play ‘The Zoo Story’ for classes and other theatre groups (The entire script is here). The 1958 play concerns the meeting on a Sunday Afternoon at a Central Park bench of establishment minded Peter (played by me) and free spirit Jerry (played by my friend) who lives in a rooming house and has no meaningful human contact. Jerry attacks Peter’s life (married, 2 girls, 2 cats, 2 parakeets,with no male children or dogs) and tells the 7 page monologue of Jerry’s one true relationship in his life, the relationship he had with his landlady’s giant dog who would always attack him when he entered the rooming house (but always leave Jerry just enough time to get to his room). Jerry starts to give the dog hamburgers, which the dog would pause to devour before rushing to attack Jerry. But one day, Jerry mixes in poison with the hamburger, and the dog gets deathly ill. The dog recovers but refuses to attack Jerry anymore and Jerry realizes that while he has gained free passage to his room, he has lost his relationship with the dog which he only then realized was more important to him than being able to get into his room unfettered. Peter sits and listens to the story, but doesn’t understand what Jerry is trying to say, which drives Jerry over the edge and in his search for some relationship tries to force Peter to fight him, first by making him get off his favorite bench in the park and eventually threatening him with a knife which he throws on the ground for Peter to use. Peter picks up the knife to defend himself and Jerry impales himself on it and dies, while Peter runs back to his predictable life. It was and is an incredible play and every time I read it (including for this post) I find something else to ponder.

  In the play, the story of ‘Jerry and the Dog’ starts with the quote at the top of this post. Just like Peter in the play, I still don’t (fully) understand the meaning of the story, but I get the quote. The last 17 months have flown by in such a blur of monthly youth tournaments and weekly blitz tournaments and chess classes that I forgot about making sure I’m enjoying myself and forgot about playing more chess myself instead of spending a whole year not playing in any long tournaments like I did in 2011. Having the small tournaments of the summer will be a long distance from the hustle and bustle of the school year tournaments but if I can maintain a balance between running tournaments and playing in them and having fun doing both heading into this coming school year, I will indeed have come back a short distance correctly.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

  On Friday, Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in the 51 year history of the New York Mets in a 8-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets franchise had gone the longest without a no-hitter, the closest coming in their miracle 1969 season when Tom Seaver lost a perfect game against the Cubs with one out in the ninth inning when he gave up a base hit to journeyman Jimmy Qualls (1 of only 32 in his career). Seaver dubbed the effort his ‘Imperfect Game’ and this game always came up whenever a Met pitcher came close to a no-hitter to highlight the beginnings of the Met no-hitter 'jinx'.

  I’m happy that the Mets now have a no-hitter to their credit and have left the San Diego Padres (est. 1969) as the only major league team without a no-hitter, but I have to question manager Terry Collins letting a pitcher who missed all of last season with shoulder surgery throw the most pitches he has ever pitched in a major league game with a 8-0 lead, no-hitter or not. I understand that Collins would have been pilloried by the fans and media for taking Santana out (especially if the Cardinals had gotten a hit), but Santana is guaranteed $50 million dollars over the next 2 years and that kind of investment should trump the glory of a no–hitter. When asked about his decision, Collins said "But if, in five days, his arm his bothering him, I'm not going to feel very good. … I just couldn't take him out. I just couldn't do it. So, we'll wait five days and see how it is."

  Hall of Fame Pitcher and Texas Ranger President Nolan Ryan thinks if his pitchers are better conditioned they’ll be able to throw more pitches and more innings, but I’ve seen enough pitchers throw large number of pitches in some early season game only to see their arms go dead later in the year to think that the more pitches in a game brings about more of a risk to the pitchers health. Maybe since the Mets haven’t won a championship in 25 years, having a no-hitter is more important than keeping a $25 million dollar pitching arm healthy for playoff games that the Mets may never earn the right to compete in. I hope for the Mets and Santana’s sake that they weren’t penny wise and pound foolish risking their ace pitcher’s arm for a week of newspaper stories.

  Speaking of being penny-wise and pound foolish, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for a ban on ‘large-size sugary drinks’. New York has already banned smoking in bars and public places as well as artificial trans-fats in restaurant foods. But this new ban isn’t targeting sugary drinks; it’s just banning large size sugary drinks. The proposal would limit sales of drinks that have 25 calories per 8 ounces sold at movie theatre, sporting venues, restaurants, and other food service establishments to be sold in amounts of 16 ounces or less. Diet sodas and milk or milk substitute products could be sold in any amounts.

  I can see banning smoking in public places in order to spare non-smokers the effects of second hand smoke, but I don’t understand banning cigarettes and trans-fats from bars and restaurants. The choice of allowing smoking or serving up trans-fats should be up to the business owner. The consumers will make it known quickly enough if changes to the smoking policy or menu are needed. This partial sugary drink ban doesn’t make any sense to me. Banning 20 ounce sodas, but allowing the sale of 16 ounce sodas may keep someone form sucking down an extra 4 ounces of soda or it may convince them to buy 2 16 ounce sodas and increase their sugar intake by 60 percent. And then what has been accomplished?

  New York officials say a 2006 study shows that sugary drinks are the largest driver of calorie consumption and obesity, and that is their rationale for trying to enforce the ban. In his weekly radio show, Boomberg said ‘Nobody is taking away any of your rights…This way, we're just telling you 'That's a lot of soda.'". I never thought of 32 ounces as a lot of soda, but even if it is, what makes 20 ounces a lot of soda? Does Mayor Bloomberg own a stake in the companies that will have to be hired to retrofit the 20 ounce soda bottle vending machines to 16 ounces or the company that manufactures 16 ounce cups? Left unanswered by the proposal is how it will impact the free refill policy at fast food restaurants. I think having a free 16 ounce refill (or 2 or 5) will certainly be against the spirit if not the letter of the new law, but it is certainly a grey area that should be addressed.

  I was talking to a guy I knew and he was telling me he’d put on 30 pounds since switching from a job where he worked from home to one downtown where he’s been going out to eat every lunch. I gave him a couple of suggestions that maybe Mayor Bloomberg could use to help the citizens of New York with their weight problems. One of the things I mentioned to my friend was that a lot of thin people stay that way making themselves throw up after meals. If the Mayor could encourage this behavior by providing ‘vomit stations’, It could render the caloric intake from 32 ounce sodas irrelevant. My other suggestion to my friend was that he could become a heroin addict, since I’ve never seen an overweight heroin addict. There must be plenty of heroin in New York that Mayor Bloomberg could commandeer and instead of making a law outlawing the sale of 20 ounce sodas, he can merely mandate a dose of heroin corresponding to the size of beverage. And if New York happened to run out of heroin, we could import some from our friends in Afghanistan and help support their economy. These ideas may be too liberal even for New Yorkers so maybe he can compromise by allowing the sale of oversized sugary drinks but only to customers wearing the ‘Tummy Tuck Belt’, an amazing new product that can be seen on TV that gradually causes fat loss with no lifestyle or exercise change on the part of the wearer!

  I think that trying to stamp out obesity is admirable and since New York is considering these sort of drastic measures, I can only assume that educating New Yorkers about healthy habits hasn’t worked very well. 2 years ago I was labeled as obese and only recently swapped out all my sugary drinks (cranberry juice and green citrus tea) for tomato juice and water. I’ve never have been too much of a soda drinker anyway so this law wouldn’t affect me very much, but if I was a skinny New Yorker that liked my Big Gulp or even a marathon runner who wants a 32 oz. Gatorade (50 calories per 8 ounces) and now is limited to a 16 ounce drink, I’d be seeing my lawyer.